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Monday, March 19, 2018, 17:56
Charting the path ahead
By Karl Wilson in Sydney and Yang Han in Hong Kong
Monday, March 19, 2018, 17:56 By Karl Wilson in Sydney and Yang Han in Hong Kong

Aides distribute ballots to deputies to the 13th National People's Congress before they cast their votes on proposed amendments to the Constitution on March 11 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (XU JINGXING / CHINA DAILY)

The constitutional amendment enshrining Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era will keep China on a steady course as it enters the next phase of economic and social development for the rest of the world to benefit as well, analysts say.

They say the changes, adopted by the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, on March 11, point to a continuation of the work already started by the Communist Party of China Central Committee with Xi at its core and the pursuit of the Chinese Dream, which some say is a major strategic thought for developing socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Rapid modernization and economic success have propelled China on a path which has become the envy of many around the world. The next step along that path will involve China upgrading its image of being the world’s factory to one steeped in science and technology which will drive modern China for much of the 21st century.

The NPC also passed an amendment that will in part set up a new National Supervision Commission to oversee the fight against corruption. The amendments were the first to be passed in 14 years.

Strengthening China’s government system has been one of President Xi’s flagship policies since coming into office five years ago.

Since then, nearly 86 million cases have been concluded, with 120 officials at or above vice-ministerial level being investigated, including former Political Bureau Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, who has since been imprisoned for life.

Investigations have until now been carried out by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which until October was headed by Wang Qishan.

However, it was only able to investigate Party officials, while the new supervision commission — because it is a State body — will also be able to investigate those outside the Party who might attempt to offer bribes or inducements to officials in return for favors.

President Xi had told an NPC meeting on March 9 that he wanted to keep the political ecology of China clean.

He told a panel of lawmakers from Southwest China’s Chongqing municipality that a political ecology was similar to a natural ecology because both can be polluted easily and rehabilitation comes at a high cost.

Victor Gao, a leading China commentator and former interpreter for China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping, said the setting up of the supervision commission is a very important move in the fight against corruption.

“It means that those offering the bribes can also be investigated, and not just the Party officials who take the bribes. It really levels the playing field in the fight against corruption,” he said.

“Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan in his role as secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection have shown that they not only talk the right talk, but also walk the right walk. This is a very important problem that has needed to be tackled in China for some time.”

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based independent think tank, said the new agency has an important role.

“It is another example of the separation of power within our governance system. You have the Party, the government and now the supervisory system, as well as market forces. It all adds to creating checks and balances,” he said.

“Corruption had become an endemic problem and harder to control and contain. China has become very sophisticated and it needs a sophisticated system of regulation,” Wang added.

Martin Jacques, a British academic and author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, an internationally best-selling book about China’s rise, said clean government is important for a system such as China’s.

“The Chinese leadership deserves a lot of credit for the anti-corruption campaign. I was at a conference in Beijing a few years ago, which was attended by Wang Qishan, where Thabo Mbeki spoke.

Constitutional amendments show support for Xi's vision for long-term progress, with battle against corruption a major theme

“I remember the former South African president saying that corruption was not just about the takers but the givers, and this is what this new agency addresses.”

The changes should not come as any surprise, said Hans Hendrischke, professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney.

He said China is undergoing profound economic and social reform, and the recent constitutional changes will ensure those reforms, such as the restructuring of central and local governments, are carried through. 

China’s commitment to the path of peace and development, mutual benefits, win-win cooperation, opening-up, and building a community with a shared future for mankind were also written into the Constitution.

According to academic Michael Peters, writing in the Educating Philosophy and Theory Journal, Xi Jinping Thought has systematically addressed the major question of our times — the form and principles of socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era.

Peters, professor of education at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, said Xi Jinping Thought “represents a pragmatic reading adapting Marxism to the Chinese context ushering in a new era of China’s socialist modernization and governance based on strengthening the Party”.

The amendment now places Xi Thought with other guiding theories including Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Theory of Three Represents.

The national legislature also wrote into the Constitution that “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

That new sentence reflects the fundamental, comprehensive and contemporary nature of the Party’s leadership, said Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.

The Party’s leadership was included in the first article of the Constitution as the Party exercises overall leadership in all areas of endeavor in every part of the country, Shen said at a news conference on the revisions.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to a Chinese context and encapsulates the practical experience and collective wisdom of the Party and the people, Shen said.

The inclusion of Xi Jinping Thought and the Scientific Outlook on Development ensures that the country’s guiding theories will advance with the times, Shen added.

Lu Xi, assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, said China’s constitutional amendments have “more positives than negatives”. 

He told China Daily Asia Weekly that under Xi’s new policies, government interests are no longer compatible at different tiers of government, especially in key reform areas such as social equality, pollution control and poverty alleviation.

“Implementing these policies won’t bring tangible benefits to local governments in the short run but will aggravate their fiscal burden.

“That is to say, the old way of managing the central-local relations cannot work anymore. For overcoming the conflicts, enhancing Xi’s personal authority is necessary and predictable.”

Kriengsak Chareonwongsak, president of Thailand’s Institute of Future Studies for Development, said Xi’s reforms are for the people of China and to see the country take its place as one of the “world’s great powers”.

The University of Waikato’s Peters said Xi Thought has provided a long-term, two-stage development plan.

“The first stage (2020-35) is devoted to the realization of socialist modernization, including the achievement of the Belt and Road Initiative. The second stage (2035-50) is to develop China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong and culturally advanced,” he said.

Shen, of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said the inclusion of Xi Thought “into the country’s fundamental law reflects the common aspiration of the entire Communist Party of China and all Chinese people of various ethnic groups”, according to Xinhua.

“It has been the fundamental theoretical guide for the historic achievements and shifts made in the cause of the Party and the country since the 18th CPC National Congress,” Shen said.

The CPC announced the formation of Xi Thought for the first time at its 19th National Congress in October last year, hailing it as “the latest achievement in adapt ng Marxism to the Chinese context and an important component of the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics”, according to Xinhua.

Upon conclusion of the congress, Xi Thought was written into the Party’s Constitution as a new guide to action.

Included are a vision of innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all; the five-sphere integrated plan for coordinated economic, political, cultural, social and ecological advancement; the goal of a “great modern socialist country”; and an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

The amendment has enriched clauses on the patriotic united front, harmonious relations among ethnic groups, and peaceful foreign policies, including the addition of building a community with a shared future for mankind.

The expression that China will “adhere to the peaceful development path and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening-up” was added to the preamble.

“The greatest strength of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the CPC,” Xinhua quoted Cao Qingyao, an NPC deputy and a district Party chief of Chongqing municipality, as saying.

“The revision has enriched provisions concerning upholding and strengthening the overall CPC leadership and is significant to ensuring the Party and the country forge ahead along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Cao noted.

Other revisions include adding core socialist values and granting Chinese cities, with subordinate districts, the power to make local laws and regulations.

The people’s congresses and their standing committees in these cities will be able to adopt local laws and regulations under the condition that they do not contradict the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and provincial laws and regulations, according to the amendment.

Antonio Fatas, a professor of economics at INSEAD in Singapore, said he thought it is “too early” to tell what the changes will mean for China in the long run.

“So far, the Chinese model has worked well to make China a middle-income economy. 

“To go beyond that, you need to continue and possibly accelerate the process of reform,” Fatas added.

Chareonwongsak, also a prime ministerial adviser and chairman of Thailand’s Nation-Building Institute International, said that amending the Constitution will have a “tremendous unifying impact on China”.

“When China does well economically, Asia rises as well,” he said.

Gao said removing the term limits for president and vice-president was a sensible adjustment that will strengthen China’s top leadership.

“It brings the role of president into line with that of general secretary of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission. It will strengthen the stability of the top echelon of China’s leadership,” said Gao.

Wang Huiyao, also a counselor to the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said the constitutional revisions were the right ones.

“What you are aiming to stop is that Catch-22 situation that existed before, where the boundaries blurred and corruption became somehow linked to the fast growth of the economy. Putting the supervisory structure in place helps to solve the Catch-22,” he said.

Gao said having Xi’s name in the country’s Constitution is symbolically important, too.

“It can only heighten and further strengthen the importance of Xi Jinping as a political leader in China,” said Gao, also chairman of the China Energy Security Institute and vice-president of the Center for China and Globalization.

Laurence Brahm, founding director of the Himalayan Consensus Institute and senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, said the recent changes to the Constitution send a “message of stability and continuity” to Asia.

“When you know the administration will be there for a consistent period, it sends a message of stability and consistency, which from the prospect of investors and businesses, people now know what the next 10 years is going to look like, and that is a stabilizing force in the Asia region,” Brahm told China Daily Asia Weekly.

He said that in some Western countries the election cycles have become “a form of entertainment” which distracts people from the main economic issues.

“In the case of an extended political term in China, it sends messages of continuous stability, (both) economic and social. I think that will have, in the long term, positive ramifications for the entire Asia region.”

Brahm said Xi has addressed in his first five years the major issues that were serious for China’s economy, political structure and society. These include corruption, excessive internal debt, the deleveraging now being done, and issues of ecology and smart infrastructure. 

Jacques, the British academic and author, said including Xi’s Thought in the State and Party Constitutions was an important historical landmark.

“The Constitution is an enduring document, and this confers on Xi historical status. His thinking is already influential,” he said.

Jacques, also a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University and a former editor of the UK political magazine Marxism Today, said Xi coming to power was the biggest change in China since Deng Xiaoping launched reform and opening-up in 1978, and Xi now completely defines China’s new era.

“This is not just about China being an economic power, but an all-round power with a central place on the global stage,” he said.

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